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A Graphic Novel (Textbook) on the New Testament!

I have recently decided to undertake a brand new venture.   Well, more truthfully, I’ve been persuaded to do it.   I have a new editor at Oxford University Press.  My old editor and good friend (he lives in Chapel Hill, as it turns out.  But when I first met him he lived in Manhattan), Robert Miller, who has edited all of my textbooks and all their revisions, my various readers, and most of my Oxford trade books, has retired after a long and successful career.  Taking his place at OUP as editor of both Religion and Philosophy (there are a lot more courses and books in the latter) is Andrew Blitzer.   Andy is a young and energetic editor with vision and ideas – and he’s on the blog!

Andy from our first meeting urged me to think about a new kind of textbook on the New Testament.  A graphic novel kind of textbook.  Hmm… OK then.  Really?

I knew nothing about graphic novels.  When I first saw a section of them at Barnes & Noble I was quite surprised: why does B & N have a section on soft porn???

OK, so I’m old and stupid.   But I’ve gotten accustomed to the form, and Andy has shown me examples of how it’s been used in such wide ranging fields as criminology, philosophy (Wittgenstein!!) , and history of religion (a book on Perpetua, e.g.).   It’s a *great* idea for the New Testament.  And a real challenge.

And so this kind of thing – hey, I think I’ll write a book! — cannot simply be decided between and editor and an author.  The author has to write up a prospectus for the editor to examine, usually be reviewed by others, and get approved by the administrative board at the Press.  Only then can he offer a contract.

So I had to write a prospectus.  It is under evaluation.  But Andy has agreed to have me post it here so you can see what I have in mind.  This will take three posts.  Here’s where I describe why such a book is needed and what I have in mind for it.  The following posts will show how I imagine structuring the first fascicle of it (explained below).

(To forestall the obvious question, which I’ll be dealing with in the later posts: yes, we will be hiring an artist that I will be closely working with.  There are professionals who do this kind of book for a living.  The book will be in color.  We are interviewing and auditioning artists already. )

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The New Testament: A Graphic Textbook

Prospectus

Bart D. Ehrman

 

College and university courses in New Testament continue to be among the most strongly enrolled in Departments of Religious Studies throughout North America.   My OUP text, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, has been the number one book in the market since its publication twenty-five years ago.  It is now in its seventh edition.  In terms of sales, the next three leading texts are all geared toward conservative evangelical or fundamentalist Christian colleges.  The fifth – that is, the only one of these competing in the same actual market with me – is also mine, A Brief Introduction to the New Testament, published in 2004, and now in the fourth edition.  The fifth edition has been completed and is entering production.

All of these books follow the standard model for textbooks:  a number of chapters devoted to discrete themes, written in steady prose, page-after-page, often with side boxes on ancillary and interesting issues, artwork, study questions, key terms, suggestions for further reading, and the like.  This kind of book has always worked well in the college/university context and will do so for the foreseeable future.  But it is now time for a new model, one that has already been used in other disciplines but not yet in biblical studies, rooted in the reading practices of a different generation of students.  The book I am proposing is meant to employ this new model.

 

The Concept of a Graphic Textbook

Graphic books of all kinds (usually called “novels,” but only as a generic term) have grown increasingly popular and found remarkable success in a number of markets, especially trade.  They include works of fiction and non-fiction, the latter involving such disparate fields social sciences, art, English, criminology, history, and philosophy.  They are now increasingly used as textbooks, since they can communicate serious content in an attractive and engaging comic-book style.

The graphic book is ideal for today’s college students, who, as a rule, have short attention spans, find complicated argumentation difficult to follow, tend to be visually oriented, and require considerably more entertaining.   New models of communication need to take such realities into account.

Graphic books using a comic-book format understandably work especially well with “visual learners”; but they also have been shown to be effective tools for communicating and reinforcing knowledge with students of all kind: a visual format can reinforce and encapsulate knowledge acquired through more traditional means.  This itself is not a new insight:  just with respect to the New Testament, generations of film goers have acquired their “knowledge” of Jesus not from texts (whether the Gospels or books about them) but from the silver screen.  Earlier centuries had their analogous mode of visual teaching and learning tools:  paintings, plastic art, stained glass windows, and so on.    A graphic textbook, more than any other, exploits the advantages of the visual learning.

This is now becoming more widely recognized.  As one educational pubisher reports: “Many educators have reported great success when they have integrated graphic novels into their curriculum especially in the areas of English, science, social sciences, and art.   Teachers are discovering that graphic novels – just like traditional forms of literature – can e useful tools for helping students critically examine aspects of history, science, literature, and art (http:/www.scholastic.com/graphix/Scholasstic_BoneDiscussion.pdf).

A graphic textbook on the New Testament thus makes perfect sense.  It will work in a traditional classroom and will also be ideally suited for online classes.

 

The Publication Plan

In addition to semester-long courses on the New Testament, a number of institutions provide either courses on “Jesus and the Gospels” and “the Life and Letters of Paul,” or cover parts of the New Testament in much broader seeps of history or literature  (for example, Western Civilization or Global Literature).  My plan is to take advantage of this situation by publishing the book in a series of three fascicles.  On one hand, this will get the product out there more quickly to build enthusiasm over time; on the other hand it will allow instructors of more specialized courses, or far broader courses, simply to order the appropriate fascicle.

And so I plan to publish the book in three stages:

    • Stage one:  The Gospels and Jesus
    • Stage two:  The Book of Acts and the Letters of Paul
    • Stage three: The New Testament.

To clarify: I do not plan to publish the “general epistles and Revelation” (the third part) as a separate fascicle, since there would be very little market for it (unlike the other two).  And so the third stage will involve writing that portion of the final product and combining it with the other two as the final product.  The buyer could then purchase one or both of the first fascicles, or the final product.

The entire work is projected to be 150 pages, with fascicles of decreasing length in view of their general importance and interest:  Gospels and Jesus 60 pages; Acts and Paul 50 pages; General Epistles and Revelation 40 pages.

 

Basic Orientation:

As with my other textbooks, this one will approach the New Testament from historical and literary perspectives (rather than, say, theological or devotional), emphasizing how each of the New Testament books has its own distinctive meaning and perspective.   The textbook will be rooted in serious critical scholarship, but it will wear its scholarship lightly, especially in view of space considerations.  Given its format, the book will need to be far more concise and direct than a traditional textbook, hitting only truly key points, striving to emphasize what is both important and interesting.

The rest of this Prospectus will focus on Fascicle One.

 


How I Will Write My “Graphic Textbook of the New Testament”
Volunteers Needed! Readers for Audio Versions of the Posts. You Interested?

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    VaulDogWarrior  January 26, 2020

    The Introducing series, while a bit of a mixed bag, have been very helpful to me in helpful me grasp new ideas. Their books on Zen and Kierkegaard were especially good in my opinion. While their books on Islam and Christianity were poor. I look forward to this believe it will introduce a new generation to these ideas.

  2. Avatar
    longdistancerunner  January 26, 2020

    By “ novel” you mean like Michael Scharras book about the civil war “ Killer Angels” with characters and discussion between the characters?

  3. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 26, 2020

    Amazing! My grandkids read graphic novels. Maybe you need some Charlie Brown/Linus type characters (one very conservative, one more of a skeptic, and one in the middle) who visit parts of the New Testament and present different views about it.

  4. Avatar
    PEscobedo  January 26, 2020

    Hi Dr. Ehrman,
    I love this idea! As a teacher and lifelong fan of comics and graphic novels, I think they are an engaging and creative medium. And as someone is not terribly religious but extremely interested in the New Testament, I cannot tell you how excited I am for the prospect of a graphic novel textbook on the NT. Best of luck getting this published! I’ll be buying the first copy:)
    -Patrick Escobedo

  5. Avatar
    clerrance2005  January 26, 2020

    Great idea. A much more larger audience will be reached.

  6. Avatar
    nichael  January 26, 2020

    As an obviously related work: Do you know Robert Crumb’s illustrated version of Genesis?

    [First, for those who might know Crumb primarily from, for example, his Zap Comix days, I can only say that this is a very different kind of work. Most importantly, the text is treated with great respect. Second, one amazing aspect of the work is how complete it is; essentially it consists of (mostly) a single verse per illustration/frame. As a result, despite the seriousness of the work, its form is much more like a massive, unabridged “comic book” than, say, either a highly abridged version like “Classics Illustrated” or a traditional “illustrated version” with illustrations by someone like Doré.]

  7. epicurus
    epicurus  January 26, 2020

    I think it’s a great idea. I’ve read several graphic novels on Greek philosophy and history as well as modern philosophy and I loved them. I was already familiar with the material, but if it were new to me, I think it would be a good way to get started – a little more user friendly if you will.

  8. Avatar
    flshrP  January 26, 2020

    Interesting. How does your enterprise differ from the Classics Illustrated “comic books” that have been around since 1941?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classics_Illustrated

    These were great for students who needed to cram for a test next day.

    Will your graphic novel cover the entire NT in one volume, are will it be produced in smaller increments, say one volume for each of the 27 NT books?

    Anxiously awaiting their appearance in my local bookstore.

  9. Avatar
    Chuck205  January 26, 2020

    I have to admit my initial reaction was thinking in terms of the Reader’s Digest and Classic Comic books but will retain an open mind and look forward to your first release.

  10. Avatar
    sschullery  January 26, 2020

    In 1956 we used a graphic novel as my textbook for my 7th grade Texas History class — long before it was fashionable to pander to visual learners with short attention spans, I still remember the wild-eyed Mexicans screaming “Aieeeeeeeeee!” (or some such) at the battle of San Jacinto as they fled from Sam Houston’s forces who were shouting “Remember the Alamo”, “Remember Nagodoches”. Then, in my 9th grade Alabama History class we used regular textbooks, and learned that slaves were fortunate to be of value because they received the best veterinarian care when ill, which was much more advanced than human medicine in the day. That’s all I remember from those two courses; I would judge the two modalities equally effective. Although I do wonder if any of it was true, I tend to be more suspicious of the comic book.

  11. Avatar
    -Randy-  January 26, 2020

    What an interesting idea! And, a way to help explain some of the concepts to younger eyes as well. I’m definitely a customer for this title

  12. Avatar
    doug  January 26, 2020

    Would such a book be clear on what is fact (or likely fact) and what is fiction?

  13. Avatar
    Sixtus  January 26, 2020

    I think Revelation alone would make for substantial (100+ pp) graphic treatment. Its many interpretations through the centuries would provide great visuals when lined up next to each other (literally synoptically).

  14. Robert
    Robert  January 26, 2020

    Beware of sequels. The gospels of Mark, Matthew, and John are graphic novels, but Luke-Acts is serialized in two parts, thus a comic book.

  15. Avatar
    AstaKask  January 26, 2020

    How do you make a graphic novel of a letter? That would be challenging.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2020

      Yup. How do you make one of Wittenstein’s Investigations? Very tricky. But remarkably effective.

  16. Avatar
    Stephen  January 26, 2020

    I can see where the general epistles might be a snoozefest but a really visually imaginative, even psychedeilc stand-alone Revelation might be a hit by itself. It’s virtually a graphic novel already.

    Are you at all familiar with the graphic work of Eric Shanower? He has done award winning graphic versions of The Oz books and he is currently doing a graphic novel series on the Trojan War called Age of Bronze. Might give you some ideas.

  17. Avatar
    Stylites  January 26, 2020

    My comments may sound as if I am condemning this project. I did not want them to be so considered. Sadly, I feel there is a need and a market for a project such as this. However, the fact that there is, is just one more indication of the dumbing down of higher education for many if not most students. I guess this trend is really not new. When I was in High School back in the 1950s, one of my friends did all of his book reports using the Classics Illustrated comic books series. He received very good grades for his work. Some of us were stupid enough we wasted our time reading the originals. Maybe that is why I still enjoy reading great literature.
    Any college student should be able to read the English Bible and your textbook without serious difficulty. Any student who cannot most likely does not belong in a college or university. Unfortunately the trend is for a university degree to be more like some sort of credentialing rather than an indication that the person earning it is literate and capable of conceptual and innovative thinking. Our society has been paying a price for this and will continue to do so. We produce leaders who do not know history, and so are condemned to repeat it. Most of us speak only one language and are only semi-literate in that. We may know science and technology, but fail to understand the cultures and societies within which they must operate. But perhaps a Jesus comic book is the only way.left to effectively communicate the wealth contained in ancient literature.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 27, 2020

      Can’t say I disagree! (Of course, in the 19th century they wondered why you’d want discussions of the NT in university settings to be based on the English text instead of the Greek! I’m a reluctant participant in the 21st century!)

    • Avatar
      rburos  January 27, 2020

      I’m sympathetic to your feelings, but as a teacher I can’t help but see a use as an additional text in the classroom. Some students with reading difficulty (dyslexia, ESL, e.g.) could receive benefit from it as an aid to lectures and class projects. But Doc’s textbook is number one due to it’s thorough analysis of the material (in addition to the description of historical and content concerns). How to depict content and history in graphic form will be easy enough for a professional, but what about the analytical content? I’m curious to see this one.

      • Bart
        Bart  January 28, 2020

        Yup, others are out there. It’s interesting that it can be done! (And how it is)

  18. Avatar
    Qadir  January 26, 2020

    Apropos, can’t help to mention The Brick Bible ( http://thebrickbible.com ); quite a different project, but highly entertaining for sure!

  19. Avatar
    thebigskyguy  January 26, 2020

    Jesus with “Spidey-sense”?

  20. Avatar
    J--B  January 26, 2020

    I would think that Revelation would make a great stand-alone graphic “novel”.

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